‘A producer’s job is not just to get money’
...But also to work on the story, says actor-producer Sohum Shah whose next production Tumbbad is the first Indian film to open the prestigious Venice Film Festival’s Critics’ Week
Most of us know him for his acting skills in films like Ship of Theseus, Talvar, Simran and others but very few know that Sohum Shah is also counted among the new-age producers of Bollywood. He made his production debut with Anand Gandhi’s Ship of Theseus, one of the critically-acclaimed films of 2012.
His second production Tumbbad, in which he is also playing the lead, is already creating the right noise. The fantasy thriller is the first Indian film to open the prestigious Venice Film Festival’s Critics’ Week, which will be held between August 29 and September 8.
The story set in the 19th century, which has been co-directed by Rai Anil Barve and Adesh Prasad, and produced by A Little Town Films, will compete with Sudanese director’s Hajooj Kuka’s A Kasha (The Roundup), German director Andreas Goldstein’s Adam and Evelyn, directorial duo Alexia Walther and Maxime Matray’s Blonde Animals, Still Recording, a documentary on the conflict in Syria.
“I am so excited that Tumbbad will premiere at Venice because it’s such a prestigious film festival. It’s overwhelming for me. It’s an unexpected gift and I am so surprised because I belong to a very small city where I have grown up watching mainstream movies, larger-than-life characters with lots of drama. I made that kind of film,” said Sohum when ST congratulated him.
Much before making it to Venice, the film has got huge encouragement from several members of Bollywood. The film is being presented by Aanand L Rai, who immediately came on board after watching the film, and Rajkumar Hirani couldn’t stop praising it on his social media handle. “When they watched the film and praised it, I knew I am on the right path. It felt so good when Aanand sir immediately decided to come on board as a presenter. He praised the film a lot and said, ‘It’s mainstream and we will release it big’. I was happy they were thinking along the same lines and not treating it like a festival film which will get limited release. There is nothing better than two popular directors not only praising the film but also my acting at such an initial stage,” says Sohum.
Tumbbad has been in the making for six years. What kept him motivated to work on the project for a such a long time? “You are right, six years is indeed a long time to work on a project because the process is very tiring and the people around you aren’t always supportive but the faith in the project kept me going. I don’t know the destiny of the film. Having said that, if you know my background, I am a businessman and films is my second career. I come from a very small city in Rajasthan. When you do business, you need some kind of madness. When I built a township in my city, people demotivated me. But we went ahead and built a national-level township, which gave me a lot of confidence,” he explains.
Just like Ship.., Tumbbad also promises to be unconventional but Sohum refuses to call it so. “It’s a little different but definitely not unconventional. It’s an Indian story, which I made for the audience here,” he says. But fantasy thriller is a niche genre in Bollywood. Many would not even remember the last time they watched a fantasy thriller. Ask him what attracted him to the script and he replies, “As I mentioned before, it’s an Indian mainstream story which has got mystery, thriller, fantasy and a certain uniqueness yet it’s got a contemporary feel to it. In fact, I am surprised why we haven’t made a film like this before in India. You are right to point out that we haven’t seen a film in this genre before, so I don’t have any reference point. So, when I was offered the script, I got very excited.”
What is his biggest challenge while producing such unique stories? Keeping faith in your vision and going with the process, he answers. “Standing by whatever you think or believe because a lot of people will keep telling you, ‘Why are you making this movie or no one watches such films’. I faced similar questions during the making of Ship... but the film was for a niche market. Tumbbad is for a larger audience. When you are making something which doesn’t have a reference point, it’s difficult for others to understand. At the end, you have to go with your gut, vision and excitement,” adds the producer who is happy that his journey has been a good one.
He iterates that he doen’t compromise on the content for the sake of releasing his films. “Somewhere people have accepted the product I have made and my vision. During Ship... Kiranji (Rao) came on board and now Aanandji. I took the risk without compromising and I believe that if you take the risk and make a good project, people will automatically get associated with it,” he says, adding, “It’s not necessary that if you do not take the risk and make it according to Bollywood standards and in calculated manner, things will work. Somewhere art is about exploring.”
We do need more producers who can think beyond box-office collections. “Somewhere the calculation and risk taking should be there. But we definitely need new producers who can work on the stories. A producer’s job is not just to get money but also work on the story. They should invest a considerable amount of time in creating and writing stories so that the foundation of the story is strong. Then there is a possibility of the film to work but I feel there is a dearth of such producers in India. I am not saying that I have learnt everything, I am still learning. But if we get more such people, the industry will grow further.”
As far as his acting career is concerned, Sohum was last seen in Simran opposite Kangana Ranaut. He says that he is more passionate about acting and became a producer by chance. “I have more fun while acting. As far as my future projects are concerned, I am in talks with a couple of makers and we are making two projects in house,” he concludes.